April 18, 2011

Worship and Sacrifice

"I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will." [Romans 12:1-2]

When I talk worship with my teams, my congregation, or - really - anyone, I start with this passage because it most closely connects worship with the bigger picture: worship as sacrifice. I once heard a pretty helpful definition of worship: it is to acknowledge greatness and respond. We can acknowledge a lot of things as great, and do on a regular basis: celebrities, athletes, writers, but the key to worship is in how we respond. Worship does not separate the belief from its consequences, the head and heart stuff from the action stuff. To acknowledge something as great does not in itself mean we worship it; what we do in response to that greatness matters.

Worship is sacrifice. A verb. Action.

For me as a missiologist and worship pastor, I need to be able to see worship as more than just something that happens once a week in an hour on Sunday. We can’t reduce worship to something as trite as a performance or an event, as good as those things are, because according to Paul, true worship IS sacrifice. Worship can’t be just accepting some set of beliefs or codes or laws, it has to be practical, something to be lived out.

Worship is a lifestyle.

Which brings me to Lent. We’re in a season right now that celebrates and remembers the life and sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus and I’m drawn to ask a question: could Jesus’ time on the Cross have been an act of worship? We tend to think about what the Cross did for us, how Jesus died so we can live (emphasis on the "so we can live") but if we look at the cross as an act of worship on Jesus’ part, it puts it in a whole new context for us as followers, as worshippers, as imitators of Jesus. In Ephesians 5:1-2, Paul writes that we are to be imitators of God, to follow His example. And what was His example? He gave of himself for others. His worship was to love others and to love God in the fullest way possible: his worship was sacrifice, both as he lived and as he died.

Philippians 2 contains one of the first recorded worship hymns, and here too Paul puts Jesus’ sacrifice in the context of worship for his followers. In verse 4, we are to look to the interests of others. In verse 12 and following, worship becomes an action, we are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. And so I guess my question in this season where we usually give up stuff as a way to benefit our own journey, how are we giving up of ourselves for others? Are we taking the time for people, or do we hoard it? And on the other hand, what are we doing that’s new? Are we giving more of ourselves, or simply ceasing activity for a while hoping that we will receive something?

What are we doing that is sacrifice?

What is our worship?

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